Archive | January, 2013

Good Tern

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This weekend I made a trip up to midcoast Maine  to visit with some dear friends I made at wood school this past the summer. On my way home I stopped into Good Tern Natural Foods Cooperative and Café. in Rockland, a wonderful source for organic local produce and bulk grocery goods. Each time I’ve been into the co-op, I’ve had a lovely experience. They have an easy tare system at the register. On two occasions I allowed (and welcomed) to rinse one of my less than squeaky clean reusable containers in their kitchen sink to use for my bulk goods purchases.

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Good Tern’s wall of bulk spices is one of the most comprehensive displays I’ve seen of all the co-ops I’ve visited. And their baking goods selection even offers alternatives to gluten flours.

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They even have bulk dry dog and cat food!

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And a fantastic selection of bulk oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, and extracts.

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I came home restocked with package-free olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and tahini. Oh, the many meals these three simple ingredients will inspire!

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Afternoon retreat

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Much of North America has been in a deep winter freeze this week. Here in Providence, temperatures never rose out of the teens most days and at night they dropped down close to zero degrees (fahrenheit). January tends to be the coldest time of year here. It’s also a time when the winter blues start to catch up with me. Luckily I’ve discovered a remedy—a little-known East Side gem that works wonders on my state of mind and my dry nasal passages. Brown University’s greenhouse, located on Waterman Street between Prospect and Thayer Street is open to the public daily from 7:30am to 3:30pm. I’m on campus every weekday for work and I like to stop in to warm up, breathe in the humid fragrant air, and gawk at whatever happens to be in bloom.

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The conservatory is a resource for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As stated on the department website, “Artists, gardeners, tinkerers, dreamers, readers, thinkers, general plant lovers, and green and brown thumbs are encouraged to visit.” The greenhouse is small but densely packed with a wide range of plant species representing many different climate zones.

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Cacti stretch up from a sandy bed toward the roof of the greenhouse, palm trees grow out of the floor, potted orchids adorn a stepped shelf, and alocasia plants spill into one of the pathways. There’s even a tiny goldfish pond.

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During most of my visits, I’m the only person there. Each time I enter, an involuntary smile stretches across my face and as I remove my many winter layers and accessories, I feel myself relax and the muscles in my neck and shoulders loosen. I stroll up and down the three aisles observing the specimen. Some days, when I have some time, I sit and read awhile or scribble in my sketchbook. Every visit is restorative, and I leave both mellowed and energized. Each year I grow older, I feel myself grow more intolerant of the cold and weary of the grey winter weather and short spurts of daylight. But I’ve learned to combat the gloom with regular exercise, fresh colorful foods, and heart lifting activities like my afternoon greenhouse sessions.

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Indoor clothesline

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I completed one of my household projects today. I installed a clothesline in my living room and wasted no time putting it to use. The indoor line has been a long time coming. During the spring, summer, and autumn months I line dry my clothes in the small tenant garden below my kitchen, but of course that’s not an option in the winter. Until now I’ve been hanging garments and linens from every hook, chair, towel rack, doorknob, and drawer pull in my apartment. I had the hank of rope sitting in a drawer for a while, and yesterday I finally purchased the screw hooks I needed to string it up. The hooks are strong with a screw thread deep enough to handle the weight of wet laundry. I drove one into the wood doorframe of the kitchen and the other into the bedroom doorframe, each 75 inches up from the floor. I then just tied a loop or rope from one to the next. Piece of cake. The clothesline is much more efficient than the doorknob method. Strung through the middle of the room, air can circulate around the dripping fabrics and and I don’t have to worry about flipping garments around to dry all sides. With the extremely low humidity level today and the radiators going in the apartment, this laundry was completely dry within a few hours. In the meantime, I didn’t mind ducking and dodging as I passed from room to room. When the laundry was dry I folded it all up, unhooked the line, coiled it and placed it in a drawer. It’s a simple system, and that’s what makes it wonderful. Not using the dryer saves so much energy (and energy costs) and line drying my clothing linens will help them last longer than if they were regularly tumble dried.

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Hardware

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Today I spent some time looking for hardware I need to complete a couple household projects. It can be a real challenge to find hardware sold as individual pieces these days. Screws, nails, hinges, and hooks are often sold in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic boxes, each containing more pieces than you might ever use. The leftovers tend to pile up in the junk drawer, under the kitchen sink, on a shelf in the garage or basement. I went to Adler’s, a local family-run business just down the street from my apartment. They have a good selection of loose, unpackaged hardware on display pegs and in drawers. I was able to find the hooks I was looking for marked with just a piece of masking tape. I bought the three I needed, pocketed them (no bag, I insisted), then made the short but very brisk walk home, my home improvement purchase clinking with each step.

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Seaside storm

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It’s snowing on the North Shore tonight. Went for a walk on the beach I was raised on. Warmed up with an amazing spicy vegetable soup. Feeling so grateful to be able to spend the long weekend with friends and family.

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Turmeric and ginger tea

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I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately. I decided to make myself some turmeric and ginger tea. Straight ginger tea is a regular part of my routine. The rhizome is always available to me at the farmer’s market or the store. I love it. The spicier, the better. The volatile oils found in ginger have been shown to have healing properties. Ginger is used to strengthen immunity, ease stomach and intestinal discomfort, combat chest colds, regulate blood circulation, and reduce inflammation. Turmeric is a rhizome of the ginger family. Both are native to South Asia and need warm humid conditions to grow. Fresh turmeric isn’t available to me as regularly as ginger so whenever I do see it grace market stands I pick some up. I can get the powdered form in bulk at my nearby co-ops, but I love the mild mustard flavor of fresh turmeric. Curcumin (a natural phenol which gives turmeric it’s bright orange-yellow color) and turmerones (the plant’s oils) are believed to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal, anticarcinogenic, and beneficial in liver detoxification.

Today I peeled and grated some ginger and turmeric, then strained and steeped both in water heated to just below boiling. The tea is delicious and soothing. I love the bright color. I’ll be enjoying several cups a day until I’m back to tip-top shape.

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Ship shape

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I recently received a gift of some Heath ceramic plates for my birthday. I’ve always admired this Sausalito, California-based company’s designs and environmentally conscious practices. Founded in 1948 by ceramicist Edith Heath, the company has upheld the values of timeless design, fair work conditions, and sustainability. Their lower heat, once-fired pieces are made to be durable enough to last for generations. Each piece contains some recycled clay. I will cherish my dishes.

Every time I receive a shipment, whether it’s something I’ve ordered myself because I can’t find a local source or something that’s been sent by someone else, I cringe at the sight of any plastic or foam packing materials. If I receive a cardboard box, I find myself holding my breath before opening it, dreading the possible discovery of packing peanuts, Styrofoam molds, bubble wrap, or inflated plastic air bags inside. The box from Heath arrived sealed with paper tape. Fantastic. As I cut into it I was thrilled to find that the protective filling was 100% paper! I reached into the paper “peanuts” and pulled out a plate. There was no bag, no wrapper, no tape. It still had some dry clay dust on it, and I instantly imagined the factory it was produced in. But there wasn’t a single chip, crack, scuff, or ding. The plates were stacked on top of each other, separated simply by squares of corrugated cardboard. I composted all the materials. My bin is always in need of the carbon.

I contacted the company via email to express my satisfaction with both their product and their shipping materials. I asked who the manufacturer of the “peanuts” was and how long they had been using them. A woman named Stephany got back to me and this is what she wrote,

“We are one of just a few companies who proudly ship all of our products with ExpandOS, a great packing system made from 100% post-industrial waste and that is 100% reusable and recyclable. Heath has been using ExpandOS for at least six years. Our philosophy on packaging is that it’s wasteful, but we want our products to be safe. In addition to ExpandOS for shipping, we wrap our products purchased in our stores in good old-fashioned newsprint. We give it a second use and it’s recyclable. We encourage reusable Heath totes in lieu of gift boxes and encourage customers to use a Heath tote or their own bag. We do use brown bags when customers need it.”
The ExpandOS packing system carried beautiful ceramics safely across a great distance to my door. I hope to see more companies with mail order services electing similar packaging systems.
Read more about Heath’s environmental integrity here.
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Cashew milk

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This morning I made cashew milk. It stands as my favorite of the non-dairy milks I have made so far (including oat, almond, and coconut). The process is the same. I soaked one cup of nuts in a medium-sized mixing bowl overnight, rinsed them in the morning, added 4 cups of fresh water to the bowl and then mixed the two ingredients with my immersion blender. It homogenized much more quickly than the milks, which makes sense because cashews are so soft and less fibrous than most nuts. And straining the solids through a nut milk bag (my repurposed mesh produce bag) was quicker and easier than with the other three. The cashew milk is mildly sweet and very rich. This one might be my jam for a while. Or at least until my recently restocked supply of bulk cashews runs out, which I’m guessing won’t take long, as the milk is a morning breakfast and evening dessert kind of treat. I’m continually amazed by how easy it is to make milk from grains nuts and seeds. I’d also like to make sunflower seed, hazelnut, and rice milk.

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Many of the rubber gaskets for my swing top glass bottles have started to become brittle are breaking down. I searched high and low at my local hardware and kitchen supply stores for replacement gaskets but came up short. So I went online and found some on ebay. Purchased them and wrote a note to the seller asking if he could send them without any plastic and as little packaging as possible. They arrived today loose (12 in total) in a small paper manila envelop. With a stamp. No plastic. Fantastic. But I’m still hoping to find a local source.

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Better late than never

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I’m knitting gifts for some friends and family I didn’t get to see over the holidays. I buy my yarn from Fresh Purls on Hope Street in Providence. They have a great selection of yarns made from natural fibers. Each skein usually comes with a paper tag which can be composted or recycled. I love giving hand knit things. With yesterday’s balmy weather it seemed for a moment that it may be too late late to give wintry accessories. But the forecast shows that we’ll be getting another cold snap before the week is out. So these neck warmers may indeed get some good use this season.

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New kicks

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I had a lovely day. It started with an unseasonably warm run. I checked the temperature before I got dressed and it was nearly 60˚F in Providence so I threw on my running shorts and a t-shirt. While working up a good sweat in the warm sun it dawned on me, it’s the middle of January! Crazy. I wore the new running shoes I finally bought to replace the spent ones I’d been sporting for years. Most running and athletic shoes on the market are made from 100% synthetic materials. I really struggled with the idea of buying a new product off a store shelf that costs so much energy to produce and that will not biodegrade once the wearable life has been pounded out of them. I am completely onboard with the minimal running shoe movement for physiological health reasons and the fact that they require less resource material (for instance, there’s no foam in my new pair) to produce than the high stability, bulkier shoes I was rocking before this. So I settled on these of 6oz water-resistant minmal shoes that will get me through all seasons. I felt that they were the best choice of everything I considered at my local running shoe retailers. So far, I really love them. They fit me perfectly, I like the feeling of being in closer contact with the ground as I move over it, and they’ve kept my feet dry and warm even in the slush and snow we had just a couple weeks ago. I believe my old shoes are too damaged in the heel to donate to be worn so I plan give them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

This evening I hung out at Fertile Underground Grocery on the westside of Providence with in-store foodie and event host Jillian McGrath and the rest of the wonderful FUG team. We spoke with interested customers about bulk food shopping and reducing food packaging waste. I had a wonderful time meeting folks from Providence and neighboring cities and discussing my project and ways to take advantage of such wonderful resources as Fertile Underground Grocery. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped to chat!

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Bulk love

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I often recall a scene from a western I watched when I was a very young. I don’t remember the name of the film. I don’t even remember the storyline, but I have a vivid memory of this one fragment. A bright-eyed, handsome young man returns home on horseback to his family’s cabin somewhere in the arid, dusty southwest. He’s barrels into the small house, embraces his mother, father, and sister and then proceeds to unpack the contents of his leather saddlebags on the wood farm table in the center of the room. He presents the family with offerings from his travels to a far off place called California. One by one, he reveals amber honey in a glass jar, flour, sugar, and oats in cotton sacks tied with string. He places a cheese wheel wrapped in a white cloth in his mother’s hands and her eyes well up with tears. A family that has gone so long without these basic foods is overwhelmed and overjoyed. I clearly remember the feeling I had while watching this scene unfold. Though each and every gift given was well-stocked in my own family’s modern kitchen pantry amongst shelves full of many other foods, in that moment the essential goods on the screen—carried in simple cotton cloth and glass, seemed to me the most precious and delicious foods in the whole world.

I think of that moment regularly when I purchase foods in bulk without packaging. I’ve written a lot about how bulk food shopping both inspired and continues to enable my No Trash Project. In my first blog post I explained that for most of my life I passed by the bulk food dispensers of my local grocery stores on my way to pick boxed and bagged grains, legumes, nuts, and baking goods off the middle aisle shelves. Shopping in bulk has become an unexpected source of… well, joy. Equipped with my No Trash food shopping gear, I stock up. The steady drizzle of honey and olive oil from stainless steel fusti spigots into glass jars and bottles is mesmerizing. I love scanning the bins and choosing foods based on their actual appearance rather than an enlarged, color enhanced printed photograph. I love scooping the foods into my cotton bags, writing down PLU (price lookup) codes and relaying the information to the store cashiers. I’ve become an expert on judging how much I need to fill the large cylindrical Weck jars that sit on my kitchen countertop without spillover. I love the sound the foods make as they swirls through my large mouth stainless steel funnel and ping against the sides of the glass containers. Jars filled to the brim with edible goods are something to lay great store by. They are beautiful to behold for the potential they possess. Ingredients waiting to become meals. I take great pleasure in the process of preparing legumes and grains to be cooked. Rationing them out in my glass measuring cup. Rinsing rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, buckwheat, and amaranth until the water runs clear from the pot before placing them on the stovetop. I like the feel of the kernels sifting through my fingers as I swish them in the bath. It’s meditative. And I’m always amazed to see how much water dried beans, and chickpeas absorb during there eight hour soak. They seem to draw in life.

Somehow, every step required to bring bulk foods from the bin to my plate makes each meal taste better. With every bite, I feel a kind of appreciation that I never experienced when I bought foods in packaging. I think about the life-giving properties of  these ingredients that were themselves once alive. I think about how my digestive system turns these foods into me. And I geek out a little. And giggle to myself as I polish off every last lentil, grain of rice, or kernel of quinoa on my plate. Precious things.

I will be speaking at Fertile Underground‘s “Packaging Be Gone” workshop tomorrow (Monday, January 14th) from 5-7pm. FUG’s in-store foodie Jillian will discuss the ins and outs of bulk grocery shopping and I will be there to share advise based on my own experiences. If you live in the area, come meet and greet me! I wil do my best to rein in my enthusiasm… but really, I can’t wait!

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Skate date

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For my birthday, my friend took me iceskating. I’d never been before! We rented me a pair of skates for $2 and turned teetering circles around a nearby rink. We skated until my toes were frozen through and my cheeks hurt from smiling. It was a wonderful gift. A brand new experience to ring in the new year and to celebrate turning another year older. I look forward to the many trash-free adventures ahead of me in 2013.

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Quinoa bowl

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Another quick, easy, healthy, satisfying lunch. A bowl of protein-packed quinoa with roasted butternut squash, apple, avocado, and sprouted pumpkin seeds. This dish fueled many hours of work.

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The perfect thing

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My new lightweight, unbleached linen towels will replace my old heavy terrycloth cotton towels. The cotton towels are the only items in my laundry that I find sometimes need to be machine dried. They are quite thick and dry very slowly on the line, especially if there isn’t a lot of air circulation, which means that line drying them inside my apartment during the winter months doesn’t work very well. If they stay damp for too long they grow mildew. They also dry scratchy and matted down when hung on the line.

I’ve read a lot about linen and it’s many wonderful properties. Linen is made from flax fiber and it has the ability to absorb water and dry very quickly. This stack of four standard size bath and four hand towels takes up about the same area as one of my terrycloth cotton bath towels. I’ve used the linen towels after showering now and I love them. I really notice the incredible absorbency when I wrap one around my hair. The linen draws out so much moisture and my hair air dries so quickly afterwards, which is great on cold winter days. And I’m amazed by how quickly the saturated linen dries on the towel rack or on my indoor clothesline.

My cotton towels are a little ratty but still quite useful. I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet but found some great ideas here. I love the suggestion of donating old linens to a local animal shelter, so I plan to make some calls to see if any near me could use mine. I also know some artists who would appreciate a donation to their studio rag pile.

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Giving

succulents

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This year I am giving few physical gifts to friends and family for the holidays. I filled the ceramic pots I made with colorful succulents and will present those to loved ones without any wrapping, but I have wrapped some of my unplanted pots and hand thrown bowls with Furoshiki style cloth—something I’ve always wanted to try. There are many wonderful illustrated directions available online and I found this video, which was incredibly helpful! The wrapping is beautiful, elegant, and easy to give to the gift receiver or keep as the gift giver to reuse.

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The rest of the gifts I will give this year will be experiences. Surprise field trips. And because my wonderful friends and family read my blog, I will wait to share those adventures until after they’ve been had! Sharing good food and conversation with loved ones this week is precious time spent.

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